When I use the word “spirituality,” I mean whatever it is that helps you feel
connected to something that is larger than yourself. – Dean Ornish
surveys of religion in the US indicate that people’s affiliation is becoming
more diverse and fluid. More than 40 percent of American adults have left the
faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at
all. The percentage of people under 30 who are identifying themselves as
unaffiliated with any religion has reached 20%.
Contributing to these
changes are the demands of the modern workplace, which often requires extensive
travel or frequent relocation. This is a major factor in the breakdown of
community and the continuing emphasis on individual fulfillment. It means
individuals put an emphasis on personal fulfillment in their religious
experience, and that leads our children to seek personal unique spiritual
Dean Hamer in his book The God Gene
used the concept of
spirituality to define those people with the “God gene.” These are people who
have a proclivity to spiritual experiences, which make them more likely to
communicate with God and affiliate with a religious, faith-based
There are three characteristics of spiritual people, according
Such people have a tendency toward
self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is the tendency to lose a sense of
the self by being immersed in an activity. Often such people are described as
absent-minded. They forget sense of time and place.
characteristics is a tendency toward mysticism. Mysticism is the fascination
with events that seem to happen by chance, without a logical or scientific
explanation. Such people believe that a chance encounter or an unexpected
opportunity is a mystical sign. Whether it is a chance meeting of an old friend
on the street or winning the lottery, it is a sign to the “mystical person” from
some higher power.
Lastly, most spiritual people have a feeling of
self-transcendence. They have a sense of connectedness with other people,
animals, trees, flowers or mountains. They are quick to experience the feeling
of being “one with nature.”
Without the positive experience of a
meaningful spiritual experience within the established religious community of
one’s birth, such people find a spiritual connection with God in their
experience with nature.
Isaac, a student of mine, is an example of this
spiritual connection. He grew up in a Jewish religiously conservative
environment and culture in which holidays were celebrated, but nothing ever
inspired him to pursue a religious lifestyle. He felt a lack of
spontaneity and connection to God within the confines of his native city temple
and religious services.
It was during a summer in college that he decided
to join a 10-week cross-country Jewish ecological tour. It took no longer than
the first morning of the trip, which was leaving from Mount Rainier in
Washington, for him to be moved spiritually.
He described that moment as
the first time he felt God’s presence as being tangible. As he rode home looking
over the cascade of mountains, he felt he could now connect to the words of the
Psalms, with the new awe he felt in the presence of God’s world.
then, Isaac has sought out religious experiences that were meaningful and
spiritual. These included teaching Jewish texts on an organic farm, joining
religious chanting groups and going to Jerusalem to study.
wonder and beauty in an individual like Isaac’s finding a meaningful channel to
nurture his personal yearning and connection with God. The problem is that
spirituality and relationship with God are not exclusively personal experiences.
There is a communal social inclination that we have to share meaningful
experiences with others. This is where spirituality meets religion.
described this as two types of religiosity: intrinsic and extrinsic religious
practice. Intrinsically, religious people feel the presence of God often
and are likely to pray alone as much as they do in their place of worship. They
have an inclination to spirituality that Hamer says is genetic.
every child has strong spiritual tendencies. Their religious experience
may be more characteristic of what Hamer describes as “extrinsic religious
Extrinsic religious practice is more social and communal in
practice. It is religious expression of ritual and prayer as a communal
experience. Your connection with God is enhanced by sharing and
expressing it with other people who feel and believe as you do. Extrinsic
religious experience is also less spontaneous and more cognitive. This
includes the learning of traditional prescribed rituals, prayers and
Much extrinsic religious experience is learned from parents and
teachers, both formally and by observing role models. Formally, a child is
taught the history, meaning and practice of rituals and text. More importantly,
the child experiences the integrity and grace or, unfortunately, the hypocrisy
of religious life through parents or teachers. How much integrity and real
commitment these role models have and how much they live an enriched life due to
religious values have their impact.
If you are a parent who wants to
instill in your children religious faith, life within a religious community,
your effort in this area is as important as your efforts in their academics and
in their personal relationships.
First, you must “walk the walk and talk
the talk.” You are their model, and actions speak louder than words. You need to
balance each of your child’s intrinsic personal spiritual needs and makeup with
that of the social and ritual demands of your faith and community. Allow your
child to search for his own personal spiritual connection and do not impose
religious demands arbitrarily.
It is a search you should encourage, while
simultaneously identifying opportunities to include him in your broader social
religious community. It is also important to find a faith community that
will be inclusive and allow for meaningful personal spiritual
expression.The writer is a clinical psychologist and certified life
coach who helps teenagers, adults and executives achieve positive goals.
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